Training plans and injuries – insights from a running workshop

running injuryEarlier this week, I attended a running workshop conducted by Leigh Fisher from Fisher Fitness and Rob Osborne from Keiser Australia.

Fisher is a former AFL footballer, current AFL umpire and accredited running coach. Osborne is a physiotherapist with lots of experience in rehab and biomechanics, particularly as they pertain to runners.

They covered many topics but their discussions on training loads and injury piqued my interest.

Training progression

Any activity you undertake requires some progression. There’s little chance you’ll be able to run a marathon, and come out unscathed, without building to that goal. That means giving your muscles and cardiovascular system time to recover after a training session and slowly building your training load.

Fisher talked about sportspeople going through three phases.

We start as beginners, training perhaps once or twice a week. This helps build a base level of fitness with plenty of recovery time. Intermediate trainers increase that frequency to two to four sessions per week with some variety. For example, runners, swimmers or cyclists might make some sessions short and sharp, employ interval training and include a longer, less intense sessions.

At the elite level, there might be six or more sessions per week with split sessions (two or more sessions in a day).

Basic training session plan

Regardless of your training level, Fisher suggested each session be broken into four main sections.

  1. A warm-up
  2. Drills and dynamic stretching
  3. Main activity
  4. Cool down with static stretches

Event preparation

Many people like to have goals in mind for their exercise. For example, I pick a number of running events (fast runners call these “races”). This year, that includes several middle distance events of around half-marathon length and some longer events (the Wonderland 36km trail, Surf Coast Trail Marathon, and Melbourne Marathon).

For each of these, there’s a specific cycle Fisher recommends

  1. Base – this is a non-event specific training period where you focus on building endurance and strength
  2. Build – more intense event-specific preparation
  3. Taper – a rest period before the event
  4. Compete – the event
  5. Recover – a period after the event where you allow your body to fully recover from the period of intense preparation and the actual event

With this information, it’s possible to create a program to get yourself ready for almost any event.

In my case, it took three years of consistent running to build a base from which I could prepare for a marathon. That meant setting my first goal – running 5km. Then building to 10km and a half marathon before I had the base to tackle the training for a marathon.

Injuries

The second half of the seminar focussed on biomechanics and injuries.

Osborne started his talk by putting some data on the table.

  • about half of all runners sustain a running injury each year
  • women are more likely to be injured than males
  • injury likelihood increases if you’ve been running for less than two years
  • injury likelihood increases if you run in excess of 64km per week
  • injury likelihood increases if you’ve been injured before
  • 80% of injuries are overuse related, the other 20% are acute
  • 40% are as a result of biomechanical issues – where the forces and movements cause the injury

While all this sounds pretty grim, Osborne did offer a way forward. He explained the importance of proper recovery and ongoing maintenance.

Why we get injured

Each tissue in our body has a specific tolerance it can cope with. Through training, we can change that tolerance but, at a given point in time, each muscle, bone or connective tissue can only handle so much.

If we increase our training load, alter our biomechanics or change something else like our equipment, the place we train or some other environmental factor, we can potentially exceed a tissue’s ability to cope.

When we cross that line, we get injured.

When we’re injured our movements can be changed. For example, I have Achilles tendinopathy. It used to cause me lots of pain – enough that I had to drastically reduce my running for a while. That meant my muscles, for a time became deconditioned and, according to Osborne, could have lead to changed biomechanics that led to further pain.

In my case, I sought medical intervention. We worked out the root cause of my Achilles issues (which was actually gluteal weakness) and remediated those so that I broke out of the cycle Osborne described.

Some lessons

So, what are the big takeaways from all this?

  1. Build you training loads slowly
  2. Listen to your body – if you’re injured, don’t push through. Either rest or modify your program
  3. Rome wasn’t built in a day – progressively increase your load so you don’t cross the injury line
  4. Add some variety to your training – it keeps things interesting and helps with muscle strength balances so you don’t mess up your biomechanics
  5. Allow time for rest and recovery

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